Authors: Alyson Noel
I fumble with the strap on my watch, remembering the first and last times I visited the Rabbit Hole. How the whole place seemed odd, off, and definitely out of the norm. From the bleary-eyed patrons at the bar, to the bartenders, bouncers, and waitstaff who worked there, and now I understand that they’re all under the spell of the Richters.
“The place is rigged with surveillance cameras,” I say, my eyes meeting Paloma’s. “Right before I left, I went into an office where I saw Cade monitoring the entire building, inside and out, from a large set of screens. It won’t be easy to poke around in there. No matter where I go, they’ll be able to watch me. And believe me, once they realize I’ve entered the premises, they’ll be watching for sure. There’s no way I can sneak under their radar.”
But despite all I’ve said, Paloma meets my words with a smile. “But you
sneak under their radar,
And you’ll do so quite easily, with very little effort, as you will soon see. They won’t even notice you, I promise you that.”
I peer at her, having no idea what she’s getting at, and not sure I want to. “So … you’ve got an invisibility cloak for me to wear?” I say, hoping the joke will calm my nerves, and it does. But only until she reaches into the side pocket of her dress and retrieves a small glass jar with tiny holes poked in the lid and an unhappy cockroach inside.
“Much like you merged your energy with the cat, and the lizard, and the spider, and the raven—when you get to the club, you will go into the bathroom, find an empty stall, and you will merge your energy with this cockroach, which will allow you to get a good look around without getting noticed.”
?” I glance between the jar and her. There’s no way. The mere thought makes my skin crawl. “Seriously.
?” I say, using up all the Spanish I know.
” She grins. “And while I’m sure there is no shortage of them at the Rabbit Hole, in this case, we just can’t take the chance that they run a much cleaner establishment than I suspect. So, I’m afraid you’ll have to bring your own.”
She hands me the jar, and even though I can hardly wrap my head around what’s being asked of me, I find myself taking it with less hesitation than I ever would’ve thought. After checking the lid and making sure it’s screwed on good and tight, I tuck the jar deep into my bag, heave it onto my shoulder, and say, “So, out of all the vortexes and portals in Enchantment, what makes this one so important?”
Paloma faces the mirror, assessing her reflection as she pulls her cardigan tightly around her, then turning away well before she can spot the small pool of blood gathering at the corner of her nose. She looks at me and says, “Because that’s where the secret of their strength lies. If you can locate it and, eventually, breach it, you can stop them forever.”
After slipping on the same dark skinny jeans I wore to school—the only ones spared the fate of Paloma’s scissors, intent on making room for my cast, I add a clingy, hip-grazing, black tank top, my favorite black ankle boots, a large pair of silver hoop earrings, and, of course, my olive-green army jacket. Arranging my soft buckskin pouch inside my clothes, where it rests against my skin, I’m just exiting my room and careening down the hall, when Paloma steps before me.
you will need this.” She offers two worn and crumpled twenties, but I’m quick to wave them away. I can’t take her money. From what I can tell there’s not a lot of it, and it doesn’t feel right.
She sighs, tucks it into her pocket, and leads me outside to her Jeep. And for all the talk and excitement we engaged in from the moment I got home from school, I’m surprised to find how quiet we are for most of the ride into town. It’s only when she brakes at a stoplight just a half block away from the Rabbit Hole, and reaches for a fresh tissue to dab away the bright spots of blood accumulating at her nose, that I say, “Paloma, about the nosebleeds—”
But just like every other time I’ve mentioned it, she’s quick to silence me. Her foot moving from the brake to the gas when she says, “When you’re ready to leave, Chay and I will be happy to come get you, all you have to do is call. And if you fail to find the portal and want to stay late and have fun, that’s okay too. I’m sure Auden or Xotichl will find you a ride, they’re good kids.”
She stops before the club, but I make no move to leave. Not until she tells me, once and for all, just what the heck is going on with her.
But, as usual, she senses my mood and turns in her seat, placing her hand over mine, giving it a nice, reassuring squeeze as she says, “Now go,
” Her tone along with her gaze signaling she has no intention of answering my questions, so I might as well get on with it. Softening a bit when she adds, “And try to have some fun—you’ve certainly earned it.”
I sigh, wishing she’d confide in me. But knowing there’s no point in pushing it, I hop out of the Jeep and make my way down the alleyway to the side door, thinking how different the place looks from the other two times I was here. First as a terrified, hallucinating, confused train wreck of a girl, which only served in making everything appear dark, foreboding, scary, and sinister. Then, just a few hours earlier, when I saw it through the eyes of the raven—when it seemed almost ordinary, mundane, boring even. Though that’s what the Richters want you to see. It’s like Paloma said, now that I’m trained as a Seeker, now that I know the truth about the world, I definitely get the the sense of something much darker lurking beneath.
I head for the door, edging my way toward the front of the line, unable to keep a grin from slipping onto my face when the bouncer stamps my hand with the same stamp they used the first time I visited: a cartoon coyote with gleaming red eyes.
El Coyote, it’s time to meet a new generation of Seeker.
My bravado lasting all of ten seconds, until I step inside and the first thing I see is Lita and the rest of the Cruel Crew, as Xotichl called them, hovering just steps from the door.
But instead of the usual sneers I expect, I’m met by three pairs of narrowed, interested eyes that carefully track my progress as I make my way past the bar, through a maze of crowded tables and chairs, all the way to the front of the stage where Xotichl stands with her eyes squeezed shut, palms pressed flat against one of the speakers, as Auden runs through a series of sound checks.
“You made it.” She smiles, eyes still closed, head turning toward me.
“I did indeed,” I say, wondering what it is that she’s doing, but she tells me well before I can ask.
“I can see the music’s energy.” She opens her eyes, though her gaze remains unfocused, far away.
“You can …
it?” I study her closely, taking in her cute denim miniskirt and black tee, the word
scrawled in silver across the front. “But …
?” I ask. I’ve never heard of such a thing.
“Amazing—isn’t it?” She grins in a way that makes her whole face illuminate. “It’s probably not what you think. It’s not like actual images or anything. It’s more like bright, intense flashes of color. Music is energy—you know that, right? Well, actually, everything is energy, it’s been scientifically proven. But anyway, back to music—you see, each note contains its own energy, its own vibration, which in turn contains its own corresponding color. I’m not sure if Paloma told you, but this is how Auden and I met. I mean, not here at the Rabbit Hole, but because of the whole energy/music/color/connection thing. Actually, when you come right down to it, it’s all Paloma’s fault.” She laughs. “We’ve been working on this for about two years now—she’s the one who helped me discover it. Then when Auden agreed to help me fine-tune it, she put us together and it was love from the start! His music is amazing,” she gushes, her face soft and dreamy. “You should see how much color it radiates. It’s as vibrant as he is.”
I stand beside her, having no idea what to say. Having never imagined I’d find myself jealous of a blind girl—or any girl, for that matter. I’ve always been more or less content with just being me, for better or worse. But Xotichl’s joy is so contagious I can’t help but wonder what it might be like to be her. To live in her skin. To be so filled with happiness and love it can’t be contained.
To never face the burden of merging your energy with that of a cockroach in order to go vortex hunting.
I wonder if she has any idea just how good she’s got it? But when I look at her again, I’m pretty certain she does.
“Oh, and just so you know.” She lowers her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Word’s out about your Hollywood past.”
I gape, overcome with the feeling of air rushing out of me.
“Apparently you’re quite the cover girl.” She nods. And I can’t decide if her voice contained a hint of glee, or if I’m just crazy and paranoid, which is such a real possibility I decide to give her the benefit of the doubt and move past it.
it?” I close my eyes, wondering how this could’ve happened. It’s a
tabloid. It’s been off the shelves for a while now.
“Apparently the hair salon has a copy,” she says, answering the question I hadn’t yet voiced. “And there was one laying around the Laundromat too. Oh, and just in case you haven’t heard, there’s this new thing called Google—apparently you can find it there too.”
“Great. That’s just …
” I study my feet. “Nothing like going from really bad to way worse all in the course of a day.”
“Maybe…” Xotichl bends toward me. “Then again, maybe not. For the first time in a long time—quite possibly ever—they’re hit with the kind of dilemma they’re not used to facing. Now they’re torn between hating you and admiring you, when before they just hated you. You should consider it progress.”
I survey the room, and yep, sure enough, there they are—three sets of eyes keeping track of everything I do. Then I turn back to Xotichl and say, “Well, for the record, the cover wasn’t exactly flattering, and the story wasn’t true. But it’s not like anyone ever cares about that. The more salacious the better. Why wreck a potentially blockbuster issue with the cold, hard facts?” I shake my head, determined to not just locate that secret portal but also to find my way inside no matter what Paloma says. The sooner I can locate the source of El Coyote’s power, the sooner I can destroy it, complete my job as a Seeker, and get back to my life as I knew it.
“But see, that’s what you don’t get,” Xotichl says. “Lita and the Cruel Crew—otherwise known as Crickett and Jacy—well, they don’t care if it’s flattering. They only care that you were in the
same general vicinity as Vane Wick
. And, while we’re on the subject, what was
I shake my head, thinking:
Et tu, Xotichl?
Only to glance over my shoulder to see just about every girl in the room, every guy too, staring at me, presumably wondering the same thing, so I might as well get used to explaining. “It wasn’t nearly as good as most people want to believe,” I tell her, knowing that’s about as false as the story on the cover of that tabloid. From what I remember, Vane was a damn good kisser. So good I came very close to doing something I would’ve regretted. But the fact that he so easily betrayed me, means that from this point on, that’s the story I’ll stick with.
Xotichl laughs, facing the stage when she says, “Yeah, I had a feeling about that.”
A moment later, the lights dim and Auden stands before us with a guitar strapped to his front. “This one’s for Xotichl,” he says. “Actually, they’re all for Xotichl.”
His fingertips meet the chords, causing a crescendo of music to swell through the room, as I lean toward Xotichl and say, “I’m gonna take a walk, have a look around. I’ll find you later, okay?”
Already moving away, when she catches my wrist, her face grim, voice competing with Auden’s strumming guitar and plaintive wail when she says, “Careful out there. Cade’s here.”
A crush of teens surge toward the stage. So many it forces me to shove my way through, mumbling, “Excuse me,” over and over again until I finally burst free and smack straight into Dace.
My body slamming so hard into his, it sets him off balance. His fingers going for my arm in an attempt to steady me, steady himself, when he says, “You okay there?”
I nod. Look away. Unable to reply—unable to meet his gaze. My immediate field of awareness narrowed to the space where his hand clutches my arm—reducing the world outside to blurred shapes, white noise.
“That’s the second time you’ve smacked into me here—must be a sign.” He grins, eyes shining, as his skin fans at the sides. The two of us suspended—staring hard at each other—until I release myself from his grip, break free of the spell, immersed in a whirl of music and people swarming all around us. “The last time you seemed a little out of it—in a bit of a hurry,” he says, looking chagrined when I fail to respond. “So you probably don’t remember.”
“I remember.” I nod. Wanting to say:
I remember everything—all of it—the question is: Do you?
But instead, I stare down at my feet, smiling stupidly. Everything I do around him is stupid. Some Seeker I’ve turned out to be. Attempting to redeem myself, say something normal, not let on that I already know he’s employed here—thanks to the raven who allowed me to spy on him earlier, I say, “So, I guess you hang out here a lot then?”
He pushes a hand through his hair, as his eyes—the color of aquamarines—glide down the length of me. And damn if I can’t feel their trajectory. It’s like showering in a stream of warm, molten honey—dripping from the top of my forehead all the way down to my feet. “I guess you could say that,” he says, voice low and deep. “More than most, anyway.” He waves a damp towel, tugs on the string of his apron, and I blush in reply. The sight of it reminding me of what I saw in the alleyway—watching him lean against the wall, his face so soft and dreamy I longed to touch him—kiss him—like I did in the dream.